ARTnewsletter Archive

Old Master Auctions: Some Strong Results

Christie's and Sotheby's turned in some strong results in comparison with their estimates for the Old Master sales on Dec. 2–3.

LONDON—Christie’s and Sotheby’s turned in some strong results in comparison with their estimates for the Old Master sales on Dec. 2–3. The overall total of £38.3million ($56.7million) for two sales at Christie’s (including one at their South Kensington branch), two at Sotheby’s and one at Bonhams was down significantly, however, from previous seasons, when totals around £100million had been the norm, reflecting the smaller number of lots offered and of major works for sale this season.

As the first important Old Master auctions since the economic downturn severely affected the markets for Impressionist and contemporary art, the sales were closely watched. At Christie’s, 35, or 80 percent, of 44 lots offered in the part-one evening sale were sold. A packed room watched as 20 of those sold within or above estimates, confirming the strength of the Old Master market even in times of economic uncertainty. The sale realized £14.7million ($21.8million) against a presale low estimate of £15.6million.

The star performer was a rediscovered Giambattista Tiepolo painting, Portrait of a Lady as Flora, which had lain hidden in an attic in France for more than a century. The painting, which though somewhat neglected was otherwise in perfect condition, soared over the £700,000/900,000 estimate to sell for £2.8 million ($4.2 million) to London dealer Jean Luc Baroni, bidding for a client.

Most other top lots sold closer to their estimates. An Italian view painting, The Grand Canal, Venice was one of two works by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal), that were consigned to settle death duties for Anthony David Brand, sixth Viscount Hampden of Glynde, who died earlier this year. This lot, which was estimated at £3mil­lion/5million, was sold to a European private buyer for £3.9million ($5.7million). The other Canaletto, The Piazzetta di San Marco, Venice, was bought in against an estimate of £4million/6million.

London dealer Johnny Van Haeften acquired two of the other top lots: Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Adoration of the Magi, which sold for £802,850 ($1.2 million) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000, and Frans Hals’s Portrait of Conradus Viëtor, 1644, which he bought via phone bid for £1.2million ($1.7million) on an estimate of £1.2million/1.8million. Baroni took advantage of some softening on reserve prices to buy Gaetano Gandolfi’s Diana and Endymion for £469,250 ($698,245) on an estimate of £500,000/800,000.

Among the trade buyers in the room were London dealer Fabrizio Moretti of Moretti Fine Arts, who bought two Florentine gold-ground pictures—Giovanni di Tano Fei’s Two outer wings of an altarpiece for £205,250 ($305,412) on an estimate of £150,000/200,000, and Neri di Bicci’s Madonna and Child for £103,250 ($153,600) on an estimate of £50,000/80,000. Michael Tolle­mache bought a panel painting, The Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory the Great by the Master of the Mass of Saint Gregory, for £43,250 ($64,300) against the estimate of £50,000/70,000.

“The saleroom was packed and saw discriminative and competitive bidding for top-quality lots, particularly from private British and European buyers,” said Florence Evans, a Christie’s specialist in Old Master and British pictures.

A Lively Night At Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s offering of Old Master paintings on Dec. 3 proved the more lively of the two sales, raising £13.3million ($19.9million), near the high estimate of £13.7million. Outstanding prices for some top lots helped offset the higher unsold rate of 39 percent, or 20 of the 52 lots offered.

For instance, a tiny oil on panel by Frans van Mieris the Elder, the leader of the 17th-century Dutch “fine painting” school, sold to Van Haeften, bidding on behalf of an American client, for a record £3.6million ($5.4million) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000. The London dealer also picked up An Extensive Coastal landscape … with the Sacrifice of Jonah Offshore by Jan Brueghel the Elder for £1.1million ($1.6million) on an estimate of £500,000/700,000, and a pair of seasonal landscapes by the joint hand of Jacob Grimmer and Gillis Mostaert, Winter and Spring, for £469,250 ($699,000) on an estimate of £100,000/150,000. The works were in extremely dirty condition, but should clean up nicely in time for the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht in March, Van Haeften told ARTnewsletter.

The biggest surprise was a stylish Renaissance portrait of the banker Bindo Altoviti by Girolamo Da Carpi. Painted on marble that had cracked in several places, it was bought by a U.S. collector, bidding against London dealer Daniel Katz, for £3.1million ($4.6million), ten times the £200,000/300,000 estimate.

Other buyers in the room included Fabrizio Moretti of Moretti Fine Arts, who bought Antiveduto Gramatica’s The Guardian Angel for £169,250 ($252,180) against an estimate of £100,000/150,000, and Zurich dealer David Koetser, who bought Jan van Kessel the Elder’s Still Life of Roses in a Glass Vase for £181,250 ($270,060) on an estimate of £150,000/200,000.

The sale was marred by a number of works that had been on the market too recently to excite much bidding. Among the highest-estimated unsold lots was Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Kermesse of St. George (estimate: £2.5million/3.5million), which had been bought at auction in 2005 (ANL, 7/19/05) for £2.2million ($3.9 million). It was subsequently sold privately to Greek collector Dimitri Mavrommatis, who consigned the work here as part of a larger clearance of his London residence. Italian industrialist Luigi Koelliker, who has built a collection of some 2,000 Baroque paintings over the past ten years, was also selling works from his London residence. Of the 13 paintings offered at Sotheby’s, only six sold, the top lot being Hendrik Ter Bruggen’s Jovial Violinist Holding a Glass of Wine, which sold below the estimate for £277,250 ($413,100) with premium (estimate: £250,000/350,000 without premium).

Nevertheless, Sotheby’s international department head, Alex Bell, said he was delighted with the auction, in which “prices were as high as I would have expected six months ago. Freshness to the market was obviously a key factor,” he said, referring to such works as the van Mieris, which had come from the collection of Lady Samuel, whose husband had acquired the painting in the 1970s as part of the best private collection of Dutch paintings in Britain formed since World War II.

The Old Master sales might also have benefitted from the weakness of the pound against the euro and the dollar, suggested Van Haeften, though neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s provided a breakdown of buyers by nationality.